On a clam chowdery Wednesday morning a few weeks ago, I went to Les Deux Magots to discuss Didier Decoin’s new novel with him and a half dozen other bloggers over breakfast. I feel very grateful that this blog, which I essentially have allowed to be overrun with weeds, still brings such cool experiences into my life.
Decoin, a member of the Académie Goncourt and best known for his prize winning John L’Enfer, wrote his new book for Grasset’s collection, “Ceci n’est pas un fait divers.” (A “fait divers” being a short news item, often of little importance.) The result: Est-ce ainsi que les femmes meurent? is a literary dramatization of the real life murder of Kitty Genovese in Queens in the 1960s. (You may remember her story from Psych 101 -- it led to the coining of the term “bystander effect.” A few dozen people in her apartment building heard and saw things while she died a slow death by stabbing. Nobody called the police.) Decoin makes the story into something larger, about personal responsibility, free will, psychopathy, and in a way, America.
Decoin explained to us that the assassin, Winston Moseley, a serial killer who had killed two other women, fascinated him because he’s not a “constant” assassin. This guy is like a werewolf. A family man with an upstanding job, he occasionally drives off to kill a girl in the middle of the night.
And Decoin was always fascinated by America, which he loves and brings to life with vivid effect. Here’s a wonderful paragraph, mixing the gory with the mundane:
L’odeur du sang, une odeur qui rappelait celle du cuivre, n’avait pas encore eu le temps de dominer les émanations qui flottaient ici comme dans la plupart des lieux fréquentés par la middle class américaine – papier kraft un peu chaud, caoutchouc, citronelle synthétique, pain de mie, ozone, nougat, mélangez en agitant bien, respirez, vous etes à New York.
I liked Decoin’s descriptions of American smells throughout the book. I even told him as much at breakfast. And he made that French hand motion, a repeated swiveling downward from the wrist, and said, “Oh la, mais ca c’est un grand compliment."(I suppose, being the only American there, I was something of an American odor authority.)
To summarize: great book, and very good book if you read French but it's not your first language and you want a challenge. It’s fairly straightforward and a page-turner -- I read it in two nights. If you don’t pick it up in a bookstore, look for it in the cinema someday. The rights have been sold for a French film.